defragment.me

Living life without limits

"Now is the time to integrate with kindred spirits while continuing to leave internal and external limiting factors behind."

Quoted from The Aquarius-Leo Full Moon of January 2010 - Creativity Crystallizing in Forms of Power by Robert Wilkinson.

Astrology works in funny ways (No it is really not the monthly column you read in newspapers). I was just having this whole thought process about the limiting beliefs I have in my life for the past few days, and this article cropped up in my feed. Regardless of whether the astrological transits influenced me or not, I thought the above quote aptly summed up what I feel now, and will probably be the theme for my 2010.

Moving forward

I wanted to write my customary New Year's resolutions post quite a while ago, but I did not really have any specific resolutions. Not because there wasn't anything to improve on, quite the opposite actually. I think I am on the brink of a crucial transition phase in my life, and mere words will not be enough to express how I feel.

The great fear of moving backwards always seem to stop me from moving forward. I cannot help but feeling that the best solution is not to move, stay in limbo, until I know the best way to move forward. But there's no "best way to move forward".  How do we determine what is the "best"? By basing on experiences of others?

I've always believed, from a young tender age, that the best way to live life is to live it spontaneously. Yet how many of us can truly be spontaneous? Not worry about bills? Even if we don't care about our own survival, what about our loved ones and whether we would be able to afford medical care for them if necessary?

Bad news can be catalysts for growth

A while ago I had some news which threatened my financial stability. All the plans that I've made for this coming year either has to be shelved, or I have to find some miraculous way of pulling it all together. Perhaps if it was in the past, I would have been crippled by the news. Devastated, and think that nothing in my life goes according to plan. The reality is, even the best laid plans can be thwarted. A dip in the economy, a war in some country, a natural disaster, tons of things can happen. We can only try our best.

I could have continued moping about my situation, which I did, for a short while – I think sometimes we have to reach the bottom in order to rise up. Problems can be solved by money are not problems. I sound frivolous by saying this, but look at little Charmaine, whose banner I put up on the right sidebar of this blog. We can garner all the donations for her expensive treatments, but her life is still in the hands of fate. We can only hope and pray for the best. Money cannot solve her problem, neither can money really solve Haiti's problems. Can money bring peace and stability to a nation? But that doesn't mean we stop giving or trying, because trying our best is better than not trying at all, isn't it?

We all have choices

Some of us are trying their best to deny this, but we all have choices. I used to hold a deterministic view of life, I believed that everything was pre-destined and we don't have a choice if we're destined to suffer. Somehow I was blessed because a series of events changed my views. I can choose to mope, or I can choose to be hopeful. If someone without limbs can lead such an inspiring life, why the rest of us who can walk, talk and eat, feel so aggrieved?

I have realised it is all about being able to exert control over your mind. Most of us allow the mind to rule us, to tell us we have to be richer, to do better, to be slimmer, whatever. I am blessed to know a few people who are not bounded by the restrictions of the mind or society, and these people are truly exceptional. They take risks, live life to the max, and are truly happy. You don't even need to know them to know they are happy. They exude happiness from their very core.

Wiring & beliefs

Being raised in a materialistic society in Singapore, (and it didn't help having a very critical mother), add my natural melancholic self to the equation, I seem to be wired to believe that I was destined to fail. I worry about anything and everything, and I worry what will happen in 50 years time. I worry about the future and problems that doesn't even exist. I think of the worst case scenario in every situation. It can be a good trait. It is always good to be prepared for the worst consequences, but not when you actually believe that the worst consequences are likely to happen all the time. Sometimes I think I actually will my problems into existence. Isn't this what they call a self-fulfilling prophecy?

So when I received the news that could threaten my financial stability, I went through the entire process of 'shit, I am never going to make it'.

This time, a switched flipped in my mind. If there's a 50/50 chance of failure and success, why do I seem to think that failure is the higher possibility? Why do I subscribe to the notion that I was not capable of rising up to the new occasion, that my situation will improve instead?

As I allowed myself to conjure hundreds of solutions to my problem, I realised that a solution was not impossible. It was just how much I was willing to do it. A difficult solution does not mean impossible.

Removing limits

Now, I am in the process of removing all my limiting beliefs. Whatever that held me back in the past. It is not easy, and some mornings I still wake up with slight panic attacks over what I am going to do about my problem, some nights I still get dreams of being late for exams. I seem to dream a lot of the past and it gives an accurate picture of my whole psyche. I am still wired to the past, still haunted by it. In reality my life is getting better every day but there is still this part of me that thinks that this is all too good to be true, and that it will end soon. I am like ending my own happiness even before even any sign of trouble. I am already planning for doomsday.

Nobody is threatening my happiness except myself. I cannot change external circumstances but I can learn how to cope with it positively. I wouldn't be in my 3rd year of my solo career now if I didn't choose to let go my fears. I would never have imagined having the life I have now when I was still working long hours under employment. Back then, I only wanted my life to improve slightly, to stop working nightmarish hours and I was even prepared to suffer and earn less money in exchange for having a life back. Now, I am almost living the life I have always dreamed of, I still have to work long hours and suffer the stress every now and then, but I have the freedom (to travel, to sleep in, to choose clients, etc), and that is most important to me.

Instead of fretting over the possible problems in the future, I rather spend my energy being the architect of my ideals. I want to dream of an improved life, not plan for the worse. Because even if unfortunate incidents do happen, there's usually nothing much you can do. Probably the very most, is to be properly insured and have some emergency funds. Even the deepest emergency fund you have in the world will not help much if life really decides to throw you a curveball.

Grateful for the unexpected

Now, looking back at the news I'd received, I am amazingly grateful for it. Like truly. I was in some form of a comfort zone and I needed it to push me out of it. If this did not happen, I would not have been spurred on to be creative about the ways I can change my lifestyle. Something that I thought that required a financial miracle is turning out to be seemingly possible – all because the situation called for extreme solutions, and one of the solutions do not seem so extreme after all...In fact, based on the current situation it is quite do-able within my means, and who is to say my means will not improve? At the very least, it is worth trying and hoping for.

If this did not happen, I would not even contemplate this particular solution (sorry for being ambiguous but it is too early to write about it), because my own limiting beliefs thought it was impossible.

Just trust

Some time last year, I was in a very bad shape and I let go. I let go of my worries, my fears, and any attachment to any outcomes. I told myself to trust the Universe and see what happens. It was very scary, but looking back now, whatever followed up actually turned out much, much, better than I could ever have imagined or expected.

This time, and for the rest of my life, I want to do the same. Just trust. Implicitly. As long as I can eat, talk and walk, whatever that comes along is a bonus and a blessing.

It will not be easy, but I really do want to stop being so affected by my past, whether is it memories, phobias, conditionings.

I want to re-wire myself.

I want to live my life without my self-imposed or society's limits.

"Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they would get. But if you work really hard and are kind, amazing things will happen." – Conan O'Brien

Looking back at 2009

2009 has been a tough year for me, personally. It wasn't because of the economy. Reading my previous year's 'looking back' post, I remember that I had ended the year with lots of optimism and hopes. It wasn't to be as I endured a difficult time mentally and emotionally as I struggled to balance all aspects of my life, but I remain grateful – for no matter how difficult it was, I am still able to remain relatively healthy and my loved ones are all well. That to me, is already a blessing I am happy to be able to count, because I know for a fact that many people are not aware of how blessed they are on an everyday basis.

What I could have done better

1. Managing self-expectations

I wanted to title this as time-management, but I have gradually grown to realise that the root of the problem is not that I don't know how to manage my time properly or that I am not disciplined enough. For almost all my life I have pointed the finger at myself for being a procrastinator and that led to feelings of self-guilt and undermining my own value. I had almost come to accept the fact that I simply cannot manage time.

The problem was never the management of time, but the expectations I have laid upon myself. It is ironic because I have a relatively low self-esteem but somehow I have sky-high expectations of myself. I have this super-woman mentality that I can manage a few major processes going on at the same time and come out fine. It is one thing to have a survivor's mentality but another thing to put myself through all the unnecessary stress. I had overestimated my ability to multi-task and the time it takes to accomplish things. I always seem to think that I can be fast (very Aries of me).

If I had set reasonable expectations for myself, I would have met them well and would not have put myself in the stressful situation of being in danger of not meeting deadlines, or trying to manage multiple timelines at one go. I have learnt time management is all about setting small, achievable targets – I mean, if I expect myself to be superwoman (which I am not, or else I wouldn't even be writing this), obviously I wouldn't be able to fulfill the tasks I have set up for myself.

At one stage in 2009, I was in the middle of a huge residential move, taking on a new spiritual course, plus juggling about 5 major work projects, taking care of a dog with behavioral problems; all at the same time. It did not come as a surprise when I was on the verge of a breakdown, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. If this was to happen a couple of years earlier, I would be blaming my luck or whatever else I could blame upon. However, I took this setback very personally, it took me a long time to stop blaming myself for it.

I fell out of love with my work, my work which I so preciously hold dear to my heart. I tie my self-identity to my work and the work I create, when things do not go well with my work, I crumble. It is hard not to fall out of love with it when I am just so burnt out. Not to mention my living quarters had more than 50 huge un-packed boxes. And a dog who refused to stop barking.

I was lost. But I took responsibility for it, I sent apologies to all parties involved and decided that the only thing I could do, is just to put in my best. I stopped accepting new work apart from those I was sure that I could manage. I took myself apart to rebuild my self again.

And I think I am still in the midst of rebuilding it. Right now, I am careful with every decision I make, especially with work. I cannot help but feel apprehensive because I have this phobia of repeating the same mistake. However, I know I cannot be over-protective or I will just miss out on plenty opportunities. I can only put in my best and hope for the best.

2. Loving myself

This past year, I've been putting in a lot of effort into loving myself more. I know this sounds egoistic, but I haven't been loving myself for most of my life. Like honestly. I don't give myself enough credit and I beat myself up hopelessly when things go wrong. This whole self-image thing is central to the many other issues that is going on in my life and to the previous point as well. When things did not go well, all I could do was to lament how incapable I was instead of encouraging myself to do better the next time.

If I had loved myself more, I would have allowed myself more time to play and rest instead of working all day long, I would have valued myself more and not under-charge for my work, which would allow me to take in less work. See how this self-image thing affects me in and out? It creates a whole vicious cycle:

Lack of self love -> Under-value self -> Under charge -> Takes in lots of work to survive -> Lots of stress generated -> Procrastinate because of stress -> Unable to manage timelines properly -> Creativity takes a hit -> Start blaming myself for being unable to create to my own expectations -> Self-hatred begins.

Sidenote: I have seldom missed a deadline in the past year regardless of all my issues. I would rather slave-drive myself than to disappoint my clients. Unless I fell physically sick, which I took full responsibility for.

3. Achieving balance

Work and other personal responsibilities took over my life for the past year, I think I could have read a bit more, played a bit more, watched a few more movies, relaxed a bit more, exercised a lot more.

I tend to swing from extreme to extreme so it is important for me to learn how to go in-between.

What I can be proud of

1. Bringing myself out of the hermit-hole

Being energetically sensitive (okay stop rolling your eyes now ;p), I sort of stopped going out to meet people since 2006. It makes me feel drained and I take quite a while to recover from it. It was a good and much needed break, but I forgone plenty of opportunities in doing that. Everything exists in duality, in avoiding negativity and I had to avoid positivity as well.

Plus, I had self-image issues so I have a phobia of meeting strangers.

It all started from the AWARE incident which made me realise that I need to know like-minded people to achieve any cause. That it can actually be empowering instead of disempowering.

From coming out of my self-created hermit hole, I managed to meet tons of great people who have in turned brought tons of great relationships and opportunities.

2. Going to Tokyo and Hongkong

Amidst all the mess going on, I am glad that I managed to squeeze the time and resources to visit Julia, my spiritual mother in Tokyo, which whetted my appetite for more. Each time I travel out of Singapore I feel a sense of liberation and joy I cannot simply explain in words. I am proud that I did not allow my financial insecurity to stop me from travelling. It was a priceless experience.

An ex-client from Hongkong I worked remotely and briefly with, popped by Singapore and bought me tickets to watch Denise Ho's concert after I casually mentioned it to her. I haven't even met her prior to this and she graciously bought the tickets for me, and invited me over to stay at her place during my two-week trip. I could have burgled her house for god's sake but she trusted me unconditionally; I was almost a stranger to her. Thank you, Belle. I appreciate all of these from the bottom of my heart. This happened at a time when things was not going well for me and it re-affirmed my faith in people and the Universe. If not for my earlier decision to reverse my hermit-dom, I wouldn't have accepted the invitation to meet up and I would have missed this learning experience.

The Hongkong trip was significant to me because it was the first time I sort of travelled alone (my partner left for Singapore after one week). I am the sort of person who is afraid of being alone in the dark and this was a major step out for me. It gave me the confidence to do this traveling thing alone. Apart from that, I had the chance to catch one of the greatest concerts I've ever watched and the concert inspired me very much, both on a professional and personal level. Again, I put aside my financial insecurity to make this trip and it was very, very much worth it.

3. Finding my voice

This is again, tied to my self-image and I have been afraid to voice my true feelings and opinions because I was worried about how people would take them. Will they see me as some weirdo? Or will my clients get upset if I tell them what I truly feel? Can I stand up for myself against nasty clients?

As I grew in self-confidence after I re-valued myself (like some property, haha), I decided that it was very important to me that I find my voice back. I used to be totally self-confident and vocal when I was a kid and I lost that part of me when my life turned up-side down during my teenage years.

I needed to be true, true to myself, and to people. Finding my voice was triggered by the AWARE incident as I struggled whether to air my potentially radical views publicly or not. I finally came to the conclusion that I am my Self and I need to stay true to that self. I put my true self out there and it is up to people whether they want to accept me for me or not. Those who can't, will not be a good fit for me anyway. It will only be tiresome and will not be of any value to both parties if we all have to put on fake fronts and hypocritical smiles.

4. Realising my greatest enemy is – myself

This was a major epiphany for me.

For realising it was never about the luck, the environment, the people, the circumstances. It is all about how I choose to perceive and believe. Everything, everything can be good or bad, it is how one looks at it.

The difference between success and failure is the ability to control the mind. To train the mind and not let the mind train you. The mind is truly powerful, it can sabotage or it can empower. It just takes a flip of a mind-switch to make a radical difference but the difficulty is to convince oneself to flip that switch.

If I truly want something, I have to make that effort, no matter how great it is. It is entirely up to me whether I want to put in that extra inch or mile. Everyone has the power to will themselves into doing anything. "Cannot help it" is a bad excuse. The circumstances can be bad, people can be critical, but if you don't believe in yourself at the very least, or make the effort to go that extra mile, who's going to do it for you?

Nobody. So I have to do it for myself. And if I don't have the will to do it for myself, then who else but myself is the greatest enemy?

Nobody has the ability to create that negative situation or that bleak outlook apart from oneself. If there are people who can make the best out of crappy situations (Stephen Hawking, for example, has lost the use of his limbs but he is still contributing to the world, or Avram Grant's dad who had to bury his parents and siblings during world war II and still feel positive about life), then it is up to us to determine how negative or positive a situation can be. It is all relative.

Gratitude time for the ones who made a significant difference

  • Julia, as always. I do not know how would I have survived without you
  • My partner, for her unwavering support and love
  • Belle, for her invitation to Hong Kong
  • Andy & Jussi, for taking that effort to convince me that meeting strangers can be a pleasant experience
  • Adrianna, for being that inspiring example
  • Danny, for your moral support
  • All the great friends I have made during #barcamp
  • All my clients, especially Kevin, who has not only been a great client but a business mentor to me. The rest, I won't mention all the names because all of you have been great. Thank you for your support and understanding
  • All the Stevens (two, actually) that I know, for they see in me what I cannot seem to see for myself
  • Twitter and my twitter friends, for being my source of comfort when the going gets tough. Not sure what I'll do without the internet, seriously. I wouldn't even have a career! Can't imagine if I was born a century earlier.
  • Those of you who believe in the magic of the universe, thank you for making me feel sane.

Here's to a great 2010!

It is all about perception

This post was triggered while I was reading Avram Grant talk about his father. He was deeply influenced by his father, who at the age of 13 had to bury both parents and his five siblings during the second world war. His father could have become very bitter, I think nobody would take that right away from him.

But he did not. As Avram Grant recollected:

‘He actually couldn’t understand why I had gone. “Why do you live in the past?” he said. “The future! That is what life is about”. Incredible.

Avram Grant was the caretaker manager of Chelsea, almost bringing them the coveted Champions League trophy, only for John Terry to miss his penalty.

I could have been one of those stories of people who went the very wrong way. Unlike quite a few exceptional people I know, I do not seem to possess that sort of healing mechanism when one encounters a setback. I would typically be very harsh upon myself, and would end up wallowing in self-pity that could last for months, if not years.

One's greatest enemy

I have learnt that one's greatest enemy is not society, not survival, not anyone – but yourself. There are plenty of people out there who have gone through horrible childhoods, encountered the worst situations you could ever imagine in their youth, survived cruel twists of fate in their adulthood, and yet they take all of it in their stride and still choose to live life in the most positive manner possible.

So what is it that sets these people apart?

I feel it is the gift of perception. The perception to perceive that life has to go on no matter what, and you may as well make the best out of it. The perception to see the silver lining in every cloud. The perception to recognise that there will always be people who are worse off and yet happier. The perception to realise that truth is the better choice over deceit.

Everyone possess the gift of hindsight but not many choose to use it positively. Most people use their hindsight for lamenting about making the wrong choices. For regret. For all the things they could have done and didn't do.

Putting it in my perspective

I had a great week this week. Not just great, but GREAT. And you know what?

I realised that I am just so grateful for all the major setbacks I have encountered in my life. It is the sort of gratitude that makes me well up inside and feel totally blessed. If not for my setbacks, I don't think I would take myself out of my comfort zone and find that courage to pursue my happiness.

And I feel even more blessed when I realised it could all have been so different. I could have taken the 'easier' route of accepting that reality that I didn't want to live in and forced myself into being someone I am not. I could have taken the other extreme and chose to numb my pain with substances.

I am fortunate, for my perception allows me to see things in a different light. I must say, this was not innate in me, it was a conscious but slow shift for the past 3 years. I was almost a completely different person if you have known me just 3 years earlier,

I guess I simply reached the bottom then, decided not to stay there and try climbing up instead.

"You cannot choose the cards you're dealt with, but you can choose the way you play the hand".

Further reading

Therein lies the best career advice I could possibly dispense: just DO things. Chase after the things that interest you and make you happy. Stop acting like you have a set path, because you don't. No one does. You shouldn't be trying to check off the boxes of life; they aren't real and they were created by other people, not you. There is no explicit path I'm following, and I'm not walking in anyone else's footsteps. I'm making it up as I go.

Charlie Hoehn, via kottke.org

Proud to be AWARE

Earlier today, I clapped until my fingers were bruised.

I have gone to cast my vote at the AWARE EGM straight after a night of work (I keep nocturnal hours), kept myself mentally alert alternating between coffee and sweets, ended up with my limbs trembling due to caffeine and lack of sleep, stayed till the very end even though I was on the verge of collapse.

But it was all worth it.

For today, I personally witnessed with my own eyes, felt with my own heart, processed with my own mind, the courage and pride of women fighting for their own rights and justice.

It was an experience that would not be justified with the mere description of words. I had honestly not expected this.

The diversity

For it was not only the outspoken feminists who turned up. It was an incredible mix of men and women, of all races, religions and ages.

There was the old who could barely walk but still made the effort to queue for hours to register. There were the male expats who took time out to volunteer for a cause they believed in but was not of much direct relation to them. There was this Caucasian woman, among many other Caucasian women who turned up to vote (presumably PR or PR-turned-citizens), who was giving away flowers out of a trolley to people in the queue, probably paid out of her own pocket. There were the educators who put their jobs on the line by speaking on the floor. There were housewives, mothers, husbands, staunch Christians, a Muslim father, who spoke for their support of a comprehensive sex education program for their children.

The ironic moment came when Josie Lau said that she was not against sex education, she simply wanted the kids to make 'informed' choices. I guess she needs to re-learn her definitions, because hers seem to point to the lack of information as being 'informed'.

There were plenty of people who were queuing up for their chance to speak, and when their turn came, they spoke with such conviction and passion that my hair stood and my heart moved. There was the girl who on the verge of tears, telling the new exco that it is already so difficult to grow up in Singapore, and how could they, how could they deny their right to love, their right to choose?

I could feel tears filling up my eyes upon hearing that. For I only know too well, how difficult it was.

And the speakers on the floor spoke for us. They questioned the new guard on their lack of sensitivity, lack of thought, lack of organization. Their mis-use of public funds (estimated to be 90k). Their lack of respect for the old guard. Their inability to answer questions. Their lack of experience in running a NGO. The list goes on and on.

The crumbling of the new exco

Personally, I am appalled. I am appalled as mentioned in my earlier posts on this subject, how can such educated women with high-flying careers, apart from having a very narrow mind, not think about the consequences of their actions prior to the act?

They have splurged our money, underestimated our intelligence, insulted many of us personally, shifting the responsibility of answering sensitive questions to their legal counsel (who was fair and did not help them much), and the icing on the cake was:

The majority of the audience was clearly not in support of them, they have lost all credibility and respect, and when the vote of no-confidence was passed, they actually have the audacity to say that the vote did not stand legally.

They have lost the popular vote and they want to exploit a legal loophole to hang on. I was starting to wonder if they have lost their sanity in the proceedings. Or modesty.

To top it all off (yes still more icing incredulously), they were implored by the old guard to step down graciously which they refused, accepted the opportunity given by the old guard to hold a meeting for 5 minutes to give proper consideration to their resignation, disappeared for half an hour with no notification of whereabouts, with their legal counsel not being able to contact them.

The motion of their removal was passed after ample time was given to them. Which thereafter, they appeared and insisted on giving a highly formulaic statement on stepping down graciously and wishing the best for AWARE.

Sorry, I personally feel that they have lost the right to step down graciously after repeatedly refusing even after the vote of no-confidence was passed, trying to pull off a stunt to say the vote was not legal-binding, and then disappearing for an indefinite amount of time. They did not have the decency to let us know that they will be extending their 5 minute meeting to 30 minutes.

Throughout the whole drama, the old guard was gracious enough to give them chance after chance to step down, and they even got us to give a round of applause to the new guard if they were ever going to re-appear.

The press has been kind to them (they were barred from the EGM by the new guard). I have just gone over the latest news reports, they did not report the new guard's unbelievable display of denial – the official statement seemed to be that they chose to be gracious and stepped down.

Reflecting

I am sure that some – even if they are the minority – of the new guard's support will be reflecting upon today's events. I do not think many of them are actually aware of the full situation, the deceit by their leadership, and the full scale of the hurt caused by them.

For me, I am actually grateful, in spite that I was feeling extremely insulted, because if not for the whole drama staged by the new guard, I would not be able to experience such a wonderful display of unity and strength. The array of individual talent and wit by the floor speakers was incredible, it was definitely a pleasant awakening for me. My previous mindset that we do not have enough brilliant individuals with their own minds was wrong.

And they were in full splendor today.

It was electrifying, the energy from the hall emitted by people from different walks of life who had united for a common cause. If you were there to see the display of passion of the people's faces for what they believe in, the eruption of pure joy when the vote was announced, you would not want to miss it, I assure you, for almost anything else in the world.

I am proud, of myself who stood up to be heard despite my personal dislike for being around people in general (too sensitive to people's energies), despite my fatigue at work, despite feeling as if I am about to break apart anytime, despite my lack of guts to speak on the floor or anywhere else actually, I was there.

I am equally proud, of my partner who stood up for the cause we both believed in, despite her being cynical of mankind in general, despite her being repeatedly let down by situations and people she once gave her trust to, despite having personally faced an uphill battle for the causes she supports, she was there.

And I am very proud, of all of you who made it, despite all that was in your way.

For once, I am proud to be a woman and a Singaporean.

p.s. I ponder about the people wondering why are we making such a big fuss about this when they are sitting in comfort because of the rights AWARE has fought for them in the past 25 years. Equal rights are not to be taken for granted, they have to be fought for and protected.

Resetting my priorities and perspectives due to shame

The past few days, if not weeks, have been hugely reflective for me. It seems like a major conspiracy from the universe to wake me up from my deep slumber. I have been feeling quite disturbed for a long while now, it has been such a while that I do not even remember when did it all start.

The issue on the surface

I have always prided myself for loving what I do and being able to do what I love. This has not been entirely accurate lately and it has been bugging me from my deepest consciousness. It eats me up slowly.

Is it because:

  • I have overworked myself
  • I have taken up web projects because of the freedom it entails me and perhaps being a print designer at heart I am actually trying to condition myself into settling for less because it gives me more
  • The projects themselves are not interesting enough
  • It is not about the work but the issue is me

The deeper, actual issues

The above questions to myself may be the cause of my dissatisfaction partially, but my gut (or my higher self) tells me there is more to it.

I have been neglecting the bigger picture.

The bigger picture has never been the work itself. Would I be satisfied and truly happy if I am doing the best work or the most interesting projects? If I imagine myself as one of the best-recognised designers right now, will that take away all my dissatisfaction? If I had less work now and have the chance to rest, will that make me feel significantly better?

A couple of years ago I have realised that even if I was doing the best work, earning the best keep, I would not really be satisfied, I would not lie on my deathbed and smile, telling myself that I have lived a good life. What is the point of even if I were to be recognised as one of the best? It does nothing except to feed my ego and probably I can tell myself I have been one of the best designers – but what comes after that? This is not meant to be any disrespect to the best designers out there now, honestly, just that different factors make different people happy, and I would not say that being one of the best makes me truly happy. I love my work but it is just not what my life should revolve around.

The picture changes significantly when one is able to contribute to the greater good with the work. I have always been a fan of Stefan Sagmeister, not because of his creative, provocative work, but rather that the messages he carries by just being himself. The work he does encourages people to be themselves, not get sold into the whole materialistic lifestyle and most importantly, to pursue your dream. Or one of those industrial designers who designs something that enables handicapped people to move more freely, for example. Or the copywriter who conceptualises the ad that carries a life-changing message to the mass public.

Yet I asked myself honestly if I thought I would ever touch people in this manner and the answer was no. It is not because I am pouring cold water on myself, but a very honest assessment of my own self. I have been doing consistently good work, but it has never been in that league. I will not say never ever, but the possibility is really remote.

What truly makes me happy on my deathbed

One of my facebook contacts had linked an article that profiled a woman with the highest recorded IQ, and the article questioned if one was obligated to use his/her natural high intelligence to 'change the world'. I remember responding to it on facebook, commenting that not everybody has to be Obamas to contribute positively to the world. I really do believe in all of us having the ability to contribute in our own unique ways, however small or supposedly insignificant it may be. The point of it is to have the intention or desire. One small gesture may change someone else's life. I have had other people's small gestures that significantly changed mine.

I slowly came to the conclusion that I will be happy on my deathbed if I had the chance to contribute to the world in my own ways, and if I had the courage to do what my heart tells me to. I actually came to this conclusion quite a few years ago, but in the middle of all the work and worries about the practicalities of life, I have gotten lost. My work has taken up so much of my time that I no longer had time to do things that I deeply cared about or that I originally set out to accomplish.

Success in the typical sense will not feed the soul, because we will always want more. Creativity declines when the soul is not being fed. I guess this makes up a lot of the reason why I have been feeling like something is withering inside me.

I slowly came to the conclusion that I will be happy on my deathbed if I had the chance to contribute to the world in my own ways, and if I had the courage to do what my heart tells me to. I actually came to this conclusion quite a few years ago, but in the middle of all the work and worries about the practicalities of life, I have gotten lost.

The conspiracy that woke me up

As I mentioned earlier, I have been feeling disturbed but I only started an in-depth interrogation within myself only when I was clearing my Google Reader's feeds and discovered that quite a few  high-profile personalities in the web industry have written about their stress-levels, work-related depression and significant decisions to do something about it. One has called it quits to his freelance career and returned to employment, one has decided to halt his thriving small business, another has gone on to another level by revolutionizing his life.

I asked myself what was I going to do about mine. In order to know what I needed to do, I have to find out the root of the issue first. That started my whole self-analysis. That was not all.

Feeling ashamed

I was extremely ashamed, yes ashamed of my own lack of guts when I saw Susan Boyle's courage to take the stage despite the expected public ridicule of her age and looks, while I would not even go anywhere anything that resembles a stage. I was totally envious and ashamed again when fellow local blogger Adrianna, at the tender age of 24, escaped a suicide bomb blast in Yemen by a twist of fate, not because she was there for work, but she was touring the Middle East by herself because she wanted to. Like seriously? I have reservations touring just South-east Asia by myself and someone else is enjoying her life and death tour to the Middle East?

I can continue to cite many more examples that made me look at myself and shake my head. That I am sitting here, being troubled about my work and not having enough guts or determination to change the situation. That I am moping while someone almost lost his life when he offered himself to the pirates as a hostage in exchange for the release of his crew, women in South Africa are getting raped to 'correct' them of their homosexuality. I feel very ashamed to have allowed mundane issues to depress me, when there is actually much greater pain and suffering out there – not to mention that there are people who are doing actual meaningful work with their lives at risk, some without a penny to their name.

Rectifying the situation

I do not want too much more of my life to tick by and lessen the time to do whatever I need to do to make myself proud at my own deathbed. This has been an on-going merry-go-round for me because I have been aware and yet getting lost repeatedly. I want to share and set my intentions openly with all of you. I may not succeed at first try, but at the very least I want to try.

The list of intentions consists of things I would like to do that I feel will bring back my passion for my work, as well as actions I can initiate in order to aid my quest to lessen my stress levels and increase the quality of my life, plus some perspectives of life in general I should constantly remind myself of in order to be grateful and not wasteful (the rhyming is not intentional ;p). Lastly, I want to consciously increase the opportunities that will allow me to contribute positively in my own ways, within my own capacity, as much as possible.

  • I want to learn hand-lettering. Looking at type, especially hand-drawn type, makes my heart skip a beat. I did not think I would be good at it so I never really tried because I suck at drawing anything by hand, but I do believe that anyone can learn almost anything if they set their heart to it. If I start drawing circles now perhaps by the time I'm 40 I may be remotely good at it. I should stop having the mentality that I am too old to start learning how to draw. (stifles laughter at myself)
  • I should not give up on doing things I truly love because it seems difficult to.
  • I must try to find more me-time and time for non-commercial creative projects to feed myself creatively.
  • I really need to look into how I can gauge myself more accurately and stop overloading myself with work because it is my number one stress factor. I will consciously finish whatever I have to do on hand and re-look into the type of work I should be working on in order to create a better creative and time balance.
  • I will also need to look into diversifying my income streams, especially the passive ones, which I do not even have one yet.
  • I want to explore other avenues of interest apart from design. I have always been interested in spirituality topics - perhaps more workshops?
  • Travel plans are still in place and will take place soon. This is important because I feel called to do so. I have a feeling this will open up the doors to more avenues for contributions.
  • Find ways and time to contribute more to the causes I support. I have been neglecting to give to my causes because I have been so caught up in my own work.
  • Should really start meditating regularly and having proper exercise soon. The health needs to be taken care of in order to have the ability to accomplish more.
  • Constantly remind myself to be grateful and to be aware of the suffering of other beings. That I should focus my energy on meaningful matters than to get myself down over minuscule matters compared to people starving in third world countries and people dying in wars. This is extreme yes, but it is real. There are people and animals who are really suffering out there and I feel upset with myself for feeling like it is the end of the world when I encounter small setbacks.
  • To not let fear affect my life and my desire to be true.
  • Spend more time writing to share my experiences so that some souls may benefit from it.
  • Write more openly and honestly on this blog about myself, my fears and failures, not worry about what the negative reactions to my honesty, and instead focus on those who appreciates me for me.
  • Give my best in trying to do what I want to do, but try not to let myself get attached to the outcomes, and not let my desire for self-improvement become unrealistic self-expectations. It is the journey that counts, not the destination.
  • Understand that while it is nice to be doing great and interesting work, ultimately whatever work I do should enable me to live out my purpose and live my life the way I want. I should never give up on finding the best compromise though – between the quality of life and the quality of work.

I hope I have not bored all of you to tears with my list and it will also be nice if any of you can share some of yours with me. :)

The feelings President Obama invoked in me

My partner was asking me why I was sniffing away watching Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, deliver his inauguration speech. Was I touched? Not really. I was not really able to describe my emotions.

The first time

I remember the first time I had watched him. It was a video linked from a blog, during the early days of the race of the Democratic nomination. I do not usually have the patience to watch any videos, but somehow, something urged me to click on it. My hair stood while I watched him that day. From that moment on I would not forget who Barack Obama is and what he stands for, just like the many others who had watched him speak.

I have always been interested in politics, but my interest in Obama grew deeper than a casual interest. I followed him from the democratic battle with Hilary Clinton to the presidential race with John McCain. When there was a clear winner on election day, I, along many others, heaved a sigh of relief, took in a breath of hope, and waited in anticipation. There was something surreal about his win, it felt so real, yet some part of it was unbelievable, a black man taking the center-stage of America.

Resonating with him

Why am I so taken with him? Because he is the epitome of what I believe in. His story, borders on being too familiar with me. The struggle against the odds, the belonging to the minority, the unwavering faith, the fight against the cynics.

Each time I hear him speak, I cannot help but get reminded about my own struggles, the darkness of my past, and the brightness of my future. He symbolises hope, his words inspire. He is deeply attached to and fiercely proud of the founding principles of America, based on liberty, equality, virtue and ideals.

Hope & ideals

He is the living example of how much one can achieve with undiluted hope and ideals.  I am sure people stifled their laughter when he would tell them of his dreams to contribute to American politics, or when he first ran for the Senator seat; people did not give him a chance when he was up against Hilary Clinton, they applauded his courage for doing so because it seemed like an impossible task, that he would even bother to try.

Hope and ideals - two words that do not have any grounded feel to them at all, that it was almost that these words do not exist in reality. It was with hope and ideals that I have built my life around, it was with hope and ideals that I formed my arguments to retort those people who had criticized the way I had made my decisions. People who were hopeful and idealistic, were typically labelled as being naive. The world does not function based on hope and ideals, the tired song we were taught to sing.

Shift in our consciousness

Obama winning the election marked a signficant shift in the world. Probably the world was already evolving, but his win brought about a sense of reality to the idea that people are finally willing to open their hearts instead of using their minds all the time. He did not just scrape through the election, he won by a landslide, and the number of people who turned up to watch his inauguration was unprecedented. He did not just win the support of the hopeful and idealistic, he had managed to convert many of the fatigued realists. For once, the idea of having hope and ideals are moving these people.

Gratitude to Obama

I will have to thank him. For his presence has made my journey feel less lonely, with more people seemingly willing to take the road less travelled. People will find it less amusing when I talk about my hope and ideals. He has opened the world's eyes to the many possibilities possible with the intent, will, strength and faith. Over the past few months, it is as though the air seemed fresher, the colours seemed brighter, that somehow despite the failing economy, people are not afraid to fight hard for themselves and for other people. I watched as there were tears forming in the audience at the inauguration ceremony yesterday, tears forming in the eyes of the weathered faces, these tears are joy, that people are actually celebrating the inauguration from their hearts.

They all want to believe him, there is just something about Obama that makes you want to believe him. His speech was not the usual fluff, but pragmatic words that reminded us the need to face our issues and work hard at them.These words are not only inspiring for the Americans, but for everyone of us.

In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.